Thicker than mud

7:30, Willamy’s House

The only real word for one’s stay in a Brazilian home is adoption.

The hospitality of the U.S. is completely different. In all my travels, I have never encountered a culture with our same, strange breed of isolationism and strict guest etiquette. It’s physically difficult for me to sit here writing as our “mother” cooks dinner. Independence, fierce independence, is a very hard habit to break. And yet these people accommodate and serve at every turn, offering everything they have with a smile. I don’t even like to be sitting if someone else is standing, let alone loafing around while an entire family unites to make us feel welcome with food and comforts. Ours is a strange culture, friends, that I should feel so awkward. Strange indeed.

Our family is, of course, wonderful. We met a man, wife, and child at our pousada in Lençois, and while discussing our route to Borda, they insisted we stay at their home. Without so much as knowing our names.

We made plans, and despite all manner of transportation fiascoes, they found our stranded asses baking in the roadside heat and took us in, making us their own.

Willamy, the father, is an insistent, incredibly energetic man of probably 28 years. A professor of chemistry and biology, I have an extremely hard time imagining him standing sterile and straight at the front of a classroom. Loud, very loud, and friendly as all hell.

His wife, Glicéia, is a dark haired Bahiana of about the same age, and is pregnant as all hell. Their frantic, ultra-dramatic yet cute as hell daughter Stefany is… three-ish. She can walk and talk, but is not very articulate and cries. However old that is. Nate’s playing with her in the other room, I stay out here and stick to my books. There’s a whole mess of barriers, linguistic and developmental, between me and a hyperactive Brazilian child. I’ll just wait out here.

The rest of the family, which is a vast, fluctuating mass of cousins, sisters, and grandparents, flows in and out of the tiny house like water. Glicéia is one of four beautiful sisters, some of which appear to have kids and no husbands. I’ve given up trying to keep my mental family tree straight, and since they all cooperatively care for the kids, I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway. Although… four (three unpregnant) hot sisters are reasonably difficult to ignore.

All in all, a very different social structure than my own. My family is me and my parents, alone. The swarming Brauer clan is hundreds of miles distant, and the smaller, cult-like Gregg remnants keep to themselves in various cells in Sacramento and Napa. Ergo, us.

This family is a twisting, gyrating sprawl that inhabits the better part of an entire neighborhood in Western Barreiras. And for the last two days, we’ve been tall, royal guests treated with the deference and insistent hospitality only a Brazilian can offer. I feel like some pale baron, a remorseless lord warlord far from home whose dark horse died in the street, leaving him stranded in a small and loving farm village far outside his own fiefdom.

As beautiful as it is, this is not my world. Hollering children and blushing sisters, pressure cookers and dirt roads… a world apart. Makes me miss my own family, in a way.

We’ve spent the last two days wandering the dusty, baked streets of Barreiras, a relatively large and central farm town. Like Fresno, or Bakersfield, but not full of fucking worthless idiots.

Portuguese, always Portuguese now. 16 hours a day. Spattered comments with Nate and this godforsaken book are the last strongholds of my beloved language in this land, at least for 300 miles in any direction. They say immersion is the best teacher, for a foreign language. This is as immersed as it gets.

After all they’ve given us, I must give back. Today I did my best to return such wrecking-ball graciousness with a bit of cultural exchange in the form of two gifts:

The root beer float and the rally hat.

Root beer doesn’t exist south of San Diego, so I figured we could use the stand by Coke method. Turns out, after rifling through various store freezers, “baunilha” sorvete is damn rare as well. We settled on a concoction of creme and leite ice creams, and developed a variant of Brazil’s Vaca Preta. It tastes nothing like a real Coke Float. Fuck it I tried.

The second gift, however, worked wonders. At 3pm, the city closed. Why?

Brazil vs. Argentina soccer finals. Argentina dominated the first half, and defeat seemed unavoidable. After a few minutes of poorly translated, choppy explanations, I got Ricardo (somebody’s brother or some shit that is hanging out with us) to pop on my A’s hat, rally style. Brazil tied up the game within 45 seconds. Grinning and amazed at the staggering power of my American voodoo, everyone in the room thanked us profusely. Although Brazil went on to lose, the impact on the Brazilian’s soccer-soaked consciousness was remarkable. If height, riches, and reputation hadn’t already convinced the locals of the true power of America and its peoples, then the rally hat certainly has. I have no doubt the tradition will spread like wildfire across this tropical land.

The child is getting into the knives. Time to wrap this up and rejoin the family. Off with the English, on with the Portuguese.

Até mais, meus filhos.
Vou a voltar amanhão.

-T.

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